Saturday, September 18, 2004

Asa Gray's Earliest Publications

For readers interested in Asa Gray and his early publications, I highly recommend the article by Harold William Rickett and Charles Lewis Gilly in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, (Vol. 96, Number 6, June 1942; pages 461-470) Asa Gray's Earliest Botanical Publications. This article goes so far as to indicate the points which distinguish various states of the 1836 Annals of the Lyceum of Natural History of New York (which included Gray's article on the Rhynchospora of New York).

Gray's first published article is often overlooked and very difficult to find- so much so, that is was overlooked in Sereno Watson and George Goodale's bibliography of Gray's works ( Watson & Goodale; American Journal of Science, Vol. 136; Appendix: 1-42; 1888). It is entitled A Catalogue of the Indigenous Flowering and Filicoid plants Growing within Twenty Miles of Bridgewater, (Oneida County) New York. It appeared in the Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York made to the Legislature, Feb.28, 1832 (Senate No. 70) published in Albany 1833.

Gray had graduated form Cental New York's Fairfield Medical College in January 1831 and for the remainder of the year practiced medicine in nearby Bridgewater, a village only 9 miles from his birthplace in Sauquoit. He had earlier taken his apprenticeship under Bridgewater physician Dr. John Foote Trowbridge, and upon graduation returned to practice with him. Notwithstanding this medical practice, Gray did not neglect the opportunities to study the flora of the region. After this tenure in Bridgewater, Gray taught natural sciences at the Utica Gymnasium from May to June 1832 and from these experiences came this first obscure publication.

The second of his "publications" was a very limited edition exsiccatae entitled North American Gramineae and Cyperaceae, Part I, issued in 1834, and offered primarily by subscription. I will not comment further upon it here, because other than the printed title page, dedication, foreward, descriptions, index, and labels, it cannot be regarded as a publication in the usual sense.

Thus the first of Gray's papers to receive widespread readership through a mainstream publication was an 1834 contribution to Benjamin Silliman Sr.'s journal, the American Journal of Science and Arts. This was a joint article with Dr. Ithamar Bingham (J.B.) Crawe of Watertown, N.Y. It comes as something of a surprise to learn that it was on a non-botanical subject: A Sketch of the Mineralogy of a Portion of Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties (N.Y.); (Am. Jour. Sci. 25:346-350). Dr. Crawe and Gray had wandered together through Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties during the Spring of 1833, studying the geology of the region. Dr. Crawe was fated to perish in a tragic boating accident.

Gray's prodigious botanical publishing career would truly commence shortly thereafter with his first major botanical publications, two papers read before the Lyceum of Natural History of New York in December, 1834:

  1. A Monograph of the North American Species of Rhynchosopora


  2. A Notice of Some New, Rare, or Otherwise Interesting Plants, From the Northern and Western Portions of the State of New York

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